NCAA Pay for Play: The Debate Continues

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(AP Photo/Aaron M. Sprecher, File)

The US Supreme Court last Monday sent a clear message to the National College Athletics Association (NCAA) that is sure to shape the proverbial debate surrounding amateurism going forward. With a 9-0 unanimous decision, the court ruled the NCAA cannot impose caps on education-related benefits schools provide to their athletes because such limits violate antitrust law.

It is the general feeling that the NCAA and colleges benefits more from the work and likenesses of the athletes than the athletes themselves. The millions generated from college sports is believed to benefit the well-paid NCAA executives, coaches, and staff while the athletes are not paid.

This has been a point of contention that in an industry that generates so much revenue; the main driver of the revenue is not proportionately sharing in the spoils.

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Students with academic scholarships are allowed to accept gifts and earn money meanwhile college athletes who are risking future careers and earning potential to play for colleges, are not. College can be physically gruesome being a student-athlete trying to keep up academically while navigating practices, games, and all that goes into being successful athletically. So, it is hard to watch colleges reap billions from these student athletes’ sacrifices and success but, in the same breath, block them from earning a dollar.

The NCAA also requires players to have health insurance and does not obligate colleges to pay for their coverage. They can also refuse to pay medical expenses for sports injuries, some of which can have life-long consequences for the students and their career opportunities.

Schools are also not prohibited from canceling injured athletes’ scholarships, making them vulnerable to leaving school without a sport or education career path.

It is important to keep in mind that majority of college athletes will never make it to the pros. Baseball which carries the highest percentage of transition to professional sports is hobbling around ten percent, while football and basketball is averaging less than two percent.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s one of the nine unanimous votes, said the “NCAA’s remaining compensation rules also raise serious questions under the antitrust laws.”

He went on to opine that “The bottom line is that the NCAA and its member colleges are suppressing the pay of student-athletes who collectively generate billions of dollars in revenues for colleges every year. Those enormous sums of money flow to seemingly everyone except the student-athletes,” he wrote.

Reading the tea leaves many pundits thinks that the door is now ajar for college athletes to eventually start getting pay to play; coupling this decision with the Name Image and Likeness (NIL) that the NCAA reluctantly committed to introducing by July 1st.

It was September 30, 2019, California passed law introduced by Sen. Nancy Skinner that will, starting in 2023, prohibit schools from punishing athletes who accept endorsement money while in college. After referring to the bill as an “existential threat”, on October 29, 2019, the association directed all three NCAA divisions to make rules that allow athletes to make endorsement money while maintaining “the collegiate model.

Its baby steps like these that leads some to believe it is only a matter of time before there is some form of pay for play.

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